The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) is recommending that low-income assistance programs offered by the state's three largest natural gas utilities be reinstated for an additional two years. The OUCC made its recommendations in testimony filed today with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).
The IURC is considering the request by Citizens Gas and Vectren Energy Delivery to reinstate their Universal Service Program (USP), which provides additional discounts on winter heating bills for consumers receiving assistance from the federally funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). In the same case, Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) is seeking to reinstate its Winter Warmth program, which provides additional assistance to consumers enrolled in LIHEAP as well as customers who may not qualify for LIHEAP but face financial hardships. Under the utilities' requests, these programs would provide assistance through the next two winter heating seasons, and customers would be required to apply for federally funded home weatherization assistance in order to participate.
"With the federal stimulus money Indiana has received for home weatherization programs, we believe that reinstating the Universal Service and Winter Warmth programs can contribute greatly to the state's overall efforts to improve energy efficiency," said Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor David Stippler.
"The universal service efforts have helped low- and moderate-income ratepayers who might have otherwise faced disconnection after the winter heating seasons," said Stippler. "Moreover, these programs are important resources for families in these times of high unemployment and economic hardship. They have also benefitted all consumers by reducing utility collection costs, bad debt write-offs and other costs that could otherwise be passed through in utility rates. For these reasons, we support the requests to reinstate such programs, with recommended enhancements for advancing these efforts."
Indiana's natural gas universal service programs, which provide assistance beyond LIHEAP, started in 2004. The programs ended earlier this year under the terms of a 2007 IURC order.
The OUCC's testimony is available online at www.in.gov/oucc/2569.htm.
(IURC Cause No. 43669)
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) is the state agency that represents residential and business consumer interests in cases before state and federal utility regulatory commissions. To learn more, visit www.IN.gov/OUCC.
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